No zombies here: motions to postpone indefinitely are silver bullets

Posted by Patrick Lam on Monday, July 17, 2023

There’s always something wrong when one gets to studying Robert’s Rules of Order, but here we are.

Today’s post is about a common misconception. What does it mean to “postpone indefinitely” a motion?

Zombie Man, CC0, Kevin Phillips.

A motion that has been postponed indefinitely is dead. It is not a zombie. Per Robert’s Rules of Order section 34:

The Object of this motion is not to postpone, but to reject, the main motion without incurring the risk of a direct vote on it, and it is made only by the enemies of the main motion when they are in doubt as to their being in the majority.

Similarly, section 58 states, in “Hints to Inexperienced Chairmen [sic]”:

If it is moved simply “to postpone the question,” without stating the time, do not rule it out of order, but ask the mover if he wishes “to postpone the question indefinitely” (which kills it), or “to lay it on the table” (which enables it to be taken up at any other time); then state the question in accordance with the motion he intended to make.

Wikipedia’s page on postpone indefinitely concurs:

In parliamentary procedure, the motion to postpone indefinitely is a subsidiary motion used to kill a main motion without taking a direct vote on it. This motion does not actually “postpone” it.

“Indefinitely” is “forever” (well, for the rest of the session, which in most cases is the meeting at hand.) The motion to postpone indefinitely can be reconsidered, if the motion to reconsider passes (but the motion to reconsider is out of order if nothing has changed). So maybe it’s a lead bullet, not a silver bullet, and an AED could work. In any case, people should ought to understand that a successful motion to postpone X indefinitely is a binding vote that expresses “we don’t want X”; an unsuccessful motion to postpone indefinitely does nothing.

Bringing a motion back for a subsequent meeting requires a new notice of motion, when such a notice is required. There is no pool of motions that automatically have to be considered at subsequent meetings.

As alluded to in section 58 quoted above, people may be thinking of “lay on the table”, which allows a meeting to get to another matter, with the motion laid on the table being a zombie to be later revived (“taken off the table”). A motion that is laid on the table and not taken off still usually dies at the end of the session.